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New Release Review - THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

the old man & the gun review
The mostly true story of geriatric bank robber Forrest Tucker.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Lowery

Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Elizabeth Moss

the old man & the gun poster


The 1969 Robert Redford/Paul Newman classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens with a title card which admits that "most of what follows is true." Writer/director David Lowery opens his own Redford vehicle, The Old Man & the Gun, with a referential card that reads "This, also, is mostly true." From this moment it's clear Lowery's film is a love letter to his leading man, and a few minutes into the story, you can't imagine any other actor occupying the role of geriatric gentleman thief Forrest Tucker (not to be confused with the actor of the same name).

the old man & the gun review

Beginning with the childhood theft of a bicycle in the 1930s, Tucker led a life of crime that saw him pull off a staggering amount of bank robberies, and an equally impressive number of prison escapes. Lowery's film catches up with Tucker in 1981, with no signs of his criminal career slowing down. Along with his aging accomplices Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover, literally getting too old for this shit), Tucker is in one of the most prolific periods of his career, knocking off banks across Texas and Oklahoma. While dodging the law, Tucker finds time to romance Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a horse enthusiast whose knowledge of Tucker's true identity is somewhat ambiguous - I guess a lot of women might be willing to overlook their lover's criminal activities if he looks like Redford.

Lowery's film is inspired by an article published in The New Yorker just prior to Tucker's death in 2004 titled 'The Old Man and the Gun', but in Lowery's portrayal of events at least, The Old Man & the Gun is a more fitting title, the ampersand separating Tucker from the weapon he carried but reputedly never once fired. Rather than menace and aggression, Tucker used his gentlemanly charm as a psychological tactic to disarm the bank employees that stood between him and his goal, and his victims report him being surprisingly well mannered, with a smile on his face as he 'worked'.

the old man & the gun review

Tucker is the type of criminal American culture likes to revere rather than demonise, a white, all-American boy with a gleam in his eyes. If he was black, Italian or Jewish he'd be considered a thug, but despite his good manners and refusal to fire his pistol, Tucker is a thug nevertheless, one whose arrogance and narcissism blinds him from seeing the pain he causes others. After evading the cops, Tucker carjacks a vehicle driven by a mother who pleads with him not to harm her son, and though Tucker is momentarily affected by the terror he's causing this woman, it doesn't take long for him to return to his criminal ways.

Played by Lowery regular Casey Affleck, John Hunt, the detective on Tucker's trail, seems himself to buy into the American double standard of the WASP criminal, so much so that he begins to find Tucker's 'live for the moment' lifestyle inspiring, injecting a new energy into both his stagnating police career and his marriage. As an audience, we get the idea that Hunt doesn't really want to catch Tucker, which makes it very annoying when Lowery has this message spelled out in a laughably on the nose interaction between Hunt and his young daughter. This obtrusive and audience insulting scene brought back memories of a similar scene in Lowery's previous film, A Ghost Story, in which a drunken partygoer told the viewer exactly what Lowery's film was about in a rambling, insufferable monologue.

the old man & the gun review

I'm beginning to wonder if Lowery will ever return to the heights of his 2013 feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a far more cogent examination of America's love of the outlaw than this movie. By comparison, The Old Man & the Gun is a superficial drama that plays largely like the product of a filmmaker who wants to pay homage to a certain era of Hollywood filmmaking but can't quite find enough depth in his material to justify it. That said, on a surface level at least, Lowery and cinematographer Joe Anderson capture the look of '70s crime cinema, and the dancing grain of the 16mm film format makes Redford's eyes glisten like a diamond on a craggy beach. A late montage that details Tucker's many prison breaks in chronological fashion is one of the year's most invigorating sequences, incorporating footage from Redford's own iconic career.

If you're a fan of the movies Lowery is evoking here, his film's '70s aesthetic and Redford's unique charm will have you smiling throughout, but you may find yourself hungering for a more substantial take on Tucker's life when the credits have rolled.

The Old Man & The Gun is in UK/ROI cinemas December 7th.


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